It has recently been revealed that from June 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2009, Police Officer Adrian Schoolcraft, an eight-year veteran of the NYPD, made digital recordings of his colleagues and supervisors at the 81st Precinct in Bedford-Stuyvesant. These tapes reveal precinct bosses threatening street cops if they don’t make their quotas and telling them to downgrade certain crimes in order to manipulate crime statistics. Portions of these recordings have been released on The Village Voice website at villagevoice.com. The area the 81st Precinct covers, Bedford-Stuyvesant, is densely populated and comprised of low-income areas, public housing projects and blocks that are becoming gentrified.
For those who may question the legality of Schoolcraft recording his colleagues and supervisors, New York State laws regarding recordings state that recordings are permissible provided at least one person privy to the conversation is aware the conversation is being recorded. Because Schoolcraft was aware all conversations were being recorded, the recordings were perfectly legal under New York law.
Understandably, these recordings have raised many concerns. The first is regarding quotas. Police quotas are completely illegal in New York State, and for years the NYPD has denied numerical targets or quotas. As recently as March 2010, police spokesman Paul Brown denied the existence of quotas. However, these tapes tell a different story. They show not only ticket quotas, but also quotas regarding arrests and reporting of crimes. The revelation of these quotas could spark a massive class action lawsuit against the state and police. Quotas, particularly quotas on arrests and stop-and-frisks – both of which require probable cause — raise major legal and ethical issues. Not only are the quotas illegal, but they also encourage illegal arrests and stop-and-frisks that violate criminal procedure.
Another concern is the downgrading of crimes in order to manipulate crime statistics. The NYPD admits that downgrading happens but claims it only happens rarely. However, in response to the release of these tapes, anecdotes regarding felony thefts being downgraded to misdemeanor thefts, robberies being turned into assaults and assaults being downgraded to harassments have been revealed. Further, since questions have been raised about the 81st Precinct, crime has raised 13 percent and felony assaults have jumped 76 percent. This may demonste that in response to the tapes, the 81st Precinct is no longer be downgrading assaults. It is not within the scope of the police’s job to downgrade crimes — that is a task for the district attorney. Further, there are claims that police will falsify and lower the value of items stolen in order to make it a lesser crime. This is completely illegal and a violation of evidence law and criminal procedure.
The Schoolcraft tapes reveal particularly egregious behavior by the 81st Precinct. We will have to wait to see what, if anything, is done in response to these claims.